Symkus column: 60th anniversary wishes (some happy, some not) to these films from 1960
This final entry in a three-part series that’s been celebrating big anniversaries of all sorts of films gives a shout-out - and in some cases, a thumbs down - to movies that have already turned or are turning 60 this year - films that were released all the way back in 1960. It was a period during which America was still comfortably ensconced in the blandness of the 1950s. By the time most of these movies hit the screens, JFK hadn’t yet been elected, and the excitement and hope that would spring from his victory wasn’t even imaginable.
Yet Hollywood, though still staying mostly safe with easy-to-take vanilla releases, made to please the masses, was inconspicuously starting to test the waters, beginning to experiment with the kinds of films that would eventually come to be known as independents.
As in the previous pieces on films turning 40 and 50, the ones mentioned here are all films that I’ve seen, and that I really liked or didn’t like one bit or that fell somewhere in between and I can still recommend. Which means that some of your favorites might be missing and, because these are subjective choices, you might not agree with some of the picks. (So, apologies in advance.) All are available on various streaming platforms.
MOVIES TO WATCH AND WATCH AGAIN
"The Apartment" - Billy Wilder’s Oscar winner for Picture, Director, and Screenplay blended light, dark, and romantic sides of a story about an ambitious but lowly insurance man whose bosses cajole him into letting them use his apartment for trysts, until he falls for one of the women.
"The Bellboy" - Jerry Lewis wrote, directed, and stars (with very little dialogue) in a look at the awkward exploits of a bellboy at Miami’s Fontainebleau Hotel. It’s pretty much an endless string of inventive and hilarious sight gags, each one topping the next, and it’s Lewis’ best solo film.
"The Little Shop of Horrors" - The precursor to the overblown musical film is a purposely shoddy, very funny, extremely odd Roger Corman classic that features a clumsy flower shop helper, his money-hungry boss, a vivacious girlfriend, and a talking man-eating plant. Jack Nicholson has a bizarre cameo in a dentist’s office.
"Psycho" - Here. Just watch the extraordinary trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTJQfFQ40lI&t=2s
"Spartacus" - Stanley Kubrick’s first major hit was written by Dalton Trumbo and has a score by Alex North. If those names aren’t enough, it stars, among others, Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, and Tony Curtis. It’s an exciting, epic film about a slave revolt at a Roman gladiatorial school, and it resonates in today’s politically charged world.
MOVIES TO EXPERIENCE AT LEAST ONCE
"The Magnificent Seven" - This update and reworking of Kurosawa’s "Seven Samurai" was turned into a Western about Mexican villagers who hire American desperadoes to defend them from bandits. Action veteran John Sturges directed the great cast of Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, lots more.
"Ocean’s 11" - The 2001 remake and its two sequels are slick fun, but the original, also with a main plot about pulling off a series of heists in Las Vegas, was hipper and, in many ways, funnier. Probably due to the real-life camaraderie of The Rat Pack in the major roles.
"Pollyanna" - Yes, it’s a little too sweet and kinda sappy, but this tale of a young orphaned girl who moves to a new town, then wins over its mostly negative populace, and changes them for the better, marked the first time I experienced a screen crush. It was on Hayley Mills.
"The Time Machine" - Rod Taylor plays the inventor who fashions the object of the title, hops in, discovers a future Utopian world, then finds out that all is not as it seems. Some of the acting is wonky, and the mutant bad guy Morlocks are laughable, but the effects are quite good, as are random bits of humor.
"Village of the Damned" - Moody and creepy and downright unsettling - and very British - this is about what happens after every person in a small village falls asleep in the middle of the day and, many months later, most of the women there are pregnant. And the emotionless blond-haired children that are eventually born are the reason it’s creepy and unsettling.
MOVIES THAT ARE OVERRATED
"Breathless" - A physically jagged, emotionally unpleasant story of a murderous French thief who charms a young American student.
"The Lost World" - A search for dinosaurs in South America, filled with really bad visual effects.
"Please Don’t Eat the Daisies" - A tepid comedy about a New York theater critic who moves his family to the country, but doesn’t give up his own city life.
"13 Ghosts" - A fright-free haunted house movie that had lousy 3D effects when people put on glasses in the theaters. It won’t be any better at home in 2D.
Ed Symkus can be reached at email@example.com.